Portland Travel

13 Best Places to Go Kayaking & Paddle Boarding in Portland

elk rock

Portland is a river city, so there are plenty of kayaking and SUP opportunities close by. And we’re surrounded by mountains with lakes and forests, rivers, and the ocean. There are great places to go kayaking and paddle boarding (and canoeing) all over Oregon!

So whether a day on the water means kayaking and wildlife spotting, or a hot summer day in your swimsuit paddleboarding one of Oregon’s alpine lakes, or canoeing with your family through flat bay waters with a picnic. Here are my favorite places to get out on the water near Portland, Oregon. Plus, a map of the best places to kayak, where to park and put in at, and where to rent SUPs and kayaks in Portland.

kayaking in Portland on the Willamette River Poets Beach

Best Places to Paddle Board & Kayak in Portland:

The most obvious choice in where to kayak in Portland, is the Willamette River! The Willamette starts in Eugene, Oregon and the current flows northbound all the way to the Columbia River near Sauvie Island. Check out the Willamette River Water Trail for maps of the 187 miles of river access, and even ideas for overnight trips. But most often you’re going to be looking for day use on the Willamette. So here are some of the best spots near Portland to kayak on the Willamette River and beyond.

Elk Rock from Milwaukie Waterfront Park

elk rock island kayaking

While there aren’t a ton of parking spots at Milwaukie Waterfront Park, this is a great little spot to launch from to kayak around Elk Rock and see a bit further south on the Willamette River. Just watch out for the Jetboat that runs through this section of the river.

Parking: Milwaukie Bay Park
Rentals: there are some free watercraft “rentals” at this location.

Elk Rock Island in fall

Sellwood Riverfront Park to Ross Island 

kayaking near Sellwood - Willamette River

This is one the most popular spots to kayak and SUP from in Portland. And for good reason. There’s ample parking, and plenty of Willamette River waterfront to set up as a base for the day. And it’s a short paddle to Ross Island from here. Note: some parts of the Willamette have Algae bloom by late summer. The lagoon of Ross Island is sometimes one of these places.

Parking: Sellwood Riverfront Park or Willamette Park
Rentals: Portland Kayak company is the most popular spot to rent a kayak for the Willamette, as you then wheel your kayak around the corner to put in at Willamette Park in South Portland directly across from the south end of Ross Island.

kayaking and paddle boarding in portland near Ross Island

Ross Island & Downtown from South Waterfront

South Waterfront Ross Island kayaking

South Waterfront has a kayak ramp that goes down to the water. And it’s directly across to Ross Island. If you feel like a shorter paddle, this is a great spot to launch from. You can also paddle downstream to Tom McCall Waterfront park “bowl” and Poet’s Beach under the Marquam Bridge from here on the west side of the Willamette River. Be careful of boat traffic in this stretch of water! The ramp is near SW Whitaker St.

Parking: metered street parking near South Waterfront Greenway

Willamette River from Swan Island

paddleboarding Portland Swan Island

Swan Island is a bit more commercial, but the stretch of beach between Daimler Trucks headquarters and Lindbergh’s Beach is usable for kayaking. Most often you can park in the large McDonalds parking lot area. Note: this area can be a bit rough sometimes and be careful walking barefoot in the sand, and keep track of what dogs and kids are playing with.

Parking: Swan Island Parking Lot

Cathedral Park on Willamette River

Cathedral Park boat ramp kayaking

Near the Cathedral Park boat ramp, there are plenty of spots to launch a kayak or SUP directly under the St John’s bridge (just south of the boat ramp). While speed boat traffic can pick up on some really hot weekends, it’s nice to get a different view of the Willamette, the train bridge, University of Portland, and the “Love” sign near the St John’s bridge!

Parking: Cathedral Park Boat Ramp

Tualatin River at Cook Park

Paddleboarding and kayaking on Tualatin River at Cook Park

The Tualatin River is a great spot for some different scenery. It’s also a great family-friendly and beginner spot, since it’s a bit shallower and slower of a river. And there are plenty of spots to stop. This spot is great for SUPs as well since the current is much flatter. There are a dozen different parks and places to launch along the Tualatin River, so check the Tualatin River Water Trail for all your options.

Parking: Cook Park and Browns Ferry Park are two popular spots
Rentals: Alder Creek rents kayaks, SUPs, and canoes at their Tualatin River spot at Browns Ferry Park. You can also rent from them at George Rogers on the Willamette in Lake Oswego.

Clackamette Park & Cove

Another option further south on the Willamette in Oregon City, is Clackamette Park and Cove where the Willamette River and Clackamas River meet. This is also close to Goat Island, Mary S Young Park, Cedar Island, and Cedaroak Boat ramp. And a jumping off point for paddling the Willamette Falls area.

Parking: Clackamette Boat Ramp
Rentals: eNRG Kayaking at Jon Storm Park or Oregon Kayak Rental at Dahl Beach

Sauvie Island & Multnomah Channel

There are many options for kayaking the Multnomah Channel between Sauvie Island and Hwy 30. You can also kayak Sturgeon Lake on Sauvie Island itself. Check out Sauvie Island’s guide to launch spots. The most popular place is to launch at the Sauvie Island Boat ramp.

Parking: Sauvie Island Boat ramp

Scappoose Bay to Warrior Rock Lighthouse Point

This one is still on my list! You can paddle from Scappoose Bay on the Multnomah Channel, and then go around the corner of Sauvie Island to the Warrior Rock Lighthouse on the Columbia River. You can also paddle onward on the Columbia to St Helens Marina.

Parking: Scapooose Bay Marina
Rentals: Next Adventure Scappoose Bay has rentals.

Henry Hagg Lake 

Henry Hagg Lake kayak

Hagg Lake is a huge lake and has lots of space for kayaking and SUP. There are also different parts of the lake and day use areas that are geared more for non-motorized boats. And while it can get wildly busy on a nice weekend, there always seems to be enough shoreline to use, since it’s such a huge lake! And while half the lake is a no-wake zone which is great for non-motorized boats, if you’re looking for a calm, scenic, and quiet paddle, skip this one on a summer weekend!

Parking: Henry Hagg Lake Boat Ramp & Recreation Area C
Rentals: Scoggins Valley Outfitters at C-Ramp Recreation Area

Smith & Bybee Wetlands Area & Columbia Slough

Wetlands paddling is a bit different than many lakes and rivers. It can fall into the swampy marshland category at times. Smith Lake and Bybee Lake are in North Portland, between the Columbia River/Marine Drive and the Columbia Slough. Smith and Bybee is best paddled April through June, or when the water level is at least 10 feet. Check Metro’s website for current conditions. This is very close to St Johns, so paddling from Cathedral Park on the Willamette is a good backup plan option. Smith & Bybee kayaking is more of an exploring type kayak trip. You’ll see all kinds of wildlife and plants. You can also paddle through to the Slough to Kelley Point Park. Note: the current on the Columbia where it meets the Willamette, near Kelley Point Park and Sauvie Island is very strong, and it’s a very deep shipping container channel. So please be aware in this area.

Parking: Smith Lake Canoe Ramp

Fairview Lake

fairview lake kayak dock

At the very east end of the Columbia Slough is Fairview Lake and Blue Lake. Fairview is a fairly shallow lake and almost feels like a private lake, but there is a small park on the SE side with a few parking spots and a dock. This lake is good for beginners as it’s so shallow. It’s worth a look if you’re in the area. And Blue Lake has gone through phases of not allowing personal kayaks and requires you to rent theres. So these are options, and if you’re in East Portland, then it’s more convenient!

Parking: Lakeshore Park
Rentals: Blue Lake Regional Park (just to the north of Fairview Lake)

Estacada Lake & Timber Park

The Clackamas River is popular with more adventurous kayakers and the upper river has some class II-III rapids. The lower Clackamas River is a great spot for tubing in the summer time. So unless you’re an experienced kayaker, I would recommend Estacada Lake Timber Park for calmer and flat water kayaking and SUPing.

Parking: Timber Park or Estacada Lake Boat ramp
Rentals: Clackamas River Outfitters rents out of Milo McIver’s Estacada Lake Boat ramp and Timber Park.

Kayaking Near Portland for Day Trips

There are tons of places for kayaking day trips near Portland. And although this post is about places in or super close to Portland, it’s worth mentioning a few beyond. My favorite being Trillium Lake with gorgeous views of Mt Hood. So here are some other options beyond Portland:

  • Trillium Lake
  • Frog Lake
  • Clear Lake
  • Timothy Lake
  • Lost Lake
  • Hood River waterfront area on Columbia River
  • Scout Lake and Suttle Lake near Sisters, Oregon
  • Coffenbury Lake at Fort Stevens State Park

Trillium Lake

kayaking and paddle boarding at Trillium Lake Mt Hood
Canoeing, kayaking, and paddleboarding at Trillium Lake

Trillium Lake just past Government Camp and Mt Hood is one of the most idyllic kayaking locations near Portland. With views of Mt Hood, and calmer waters than some rivers, this lake is a favorite of many Portlanders. And for good reason, it gets pretty busy on a nice weekend! Mt Hood Outfitters also rents kayaks, paddleboards, and canoes from Trillium Lake and Frog Lake!

Parking: Trillium Lake Day Use. Note: If you have a NW Forest pass, bring it as it covers your day use fee. Otherwise you’ll be charged $10.
Rentals: Mt Hood Outfitters

My Gear:

I’ve been kayaking on the Willamette for years, by renting a kayak about once a year. But after buying a kayak last year, and then a SUP, suddenly I started searching for more places to get out on the water with a bit of variety! Here’s the paddling gear I have and can recommend.

Kayak Safety: 

  • Wear a life jacket. Seriously folks, especially on rivers. But even on lakes, and even if you know how to swim. The water in most lakes and rivers in Oregon is very cold. And this is how people drown.
  • Don’t go alone, but if you do, tell somewhere where you’re going and when to expect you back.
  • Check the wind and weather. Wind is usually calmest in the mornings, which makes it popular time for paddlers. But on a SUP, anything about 10mph is going to just blow you around. And kayaking 15mph is a no-go for most kayakers.
  • SUP – use your leash on rivers or windy lakes. I was told: “even Michael Phelps couldn’t out swim a SUP that gets caught with the wind down a river.” True!
  • Paddle upstream or toward the wind first, then you know you can actually get back in the opposite conditions.
  • After large storms, there can be logs in the many local rivers. The danger with logs is not just that they’re floating projectiles, but also that they can be partially hidden under the water. And can also create a “strainer” situation where you are trapped under. So please use caution.

Paddle Boarding & Kayaking in Portland: Map

Best Places to Paddleboard in Portland

In summary, the best places to stand up paddle board and kayak in Portland are:

  1. Willamette River: Elk Rock from Milwaukie Waterfront Park
  2. Sellwood Riverfront Park to Ross Island
  3. Ross Island & Downtown from South Waterfront
  4. Willamette River from Swan Island
  5. Cathedral Park on Willamette River
  6. Clackamette Park & Cove
  7. Tualatin River at Cook Park
  8. Sauvie Island & Multnomah Channel
  9. Scappoose Bay to Warrior Rock Lighthouse Point
  10. Henry Hagg Lake 
  11. Smith & Bybee Wetlands Area & Columbia Slough
  12. Fairview Lake
  13. Estacada Lake at Timber Park

Where are your favorite places to paddleboard and kayak near Portland?

kayaking near Portland

*As with any outdoor activity, there is risk involved. Kayakers and SUPers agree to PADDLE AT THEIR OWN RISK. You are responsible for your own water safety, to float, navigate and conduct safely and appropriate to conditions as they exist.